In a recent New York Times Sunday Styles story, Catherine Saint Louis reports on "a contingent of renegades" — urban professionals who are rebelling against commonly accepted personal hygiene practices like daily showers, regular hair washing, and the use of deodorant. Here, a short guide to these un-showered revolutionaries whom the article deems "The Great Unwashed":
Who are these people?
The Times article features, among others, a 55-year-old CEO of an organic skin care line who says she showers no more than three times a week, a "clean-cut-looking actor and online producer at Sony" who uses neither deodorant nor antiperspirant (and believes that doing so is "akin to covering your pores in Saran Wrap"), and a 30-year-old salesman who shampoos only once a month and enjoys his own "personal perfume."
Don't these people smell horribly?
They claim not to... or not to care. "I’m still invited to dinner parties," says Katherine Ashenburg, 65, an advocate of less frequent bathing and the author of The Dirt on Clean: An Unsanitized History. Todd Felix, the antiperspirant-opposed actor, says "it's weird, but I don't smell" and claims to be dating actively. But, John Wesley Wilder Jr., the once-a-month shampooer, admits he had to start using deodorant, after three years of living with au natural underarms, during this summer's heat wave. "The moment I didn't shower, it was terrible," he recalls.
Is this a bona fide trend?
Doubtful, says Slate's Jack Shafer, who calls the piece the sort of "stinky bogus trend story" that's to be expected from the Times Sunday Styles section, which "has previously tortured readers with... stories about dudes who love cats, chicks who are proud of their flat chests, [and] fellas who think being chubby is hip...." But, as The Village Voice's Joe Coscarelli notes, the Times is not the first publication to have covered the unwashed movement.
How often does the average adult shower?
According to Mintel, a market research firm, 93 percent of American adults report that they shower nearly every day. That said, quips a rival researcher, "People are going to be hesitant to say they're not showering every day."
Is there any scientific support for this lifestyle?
Yes, actually. Just as it's been found that certain bacteria are good for your digestive tract, some researchers have identified "germs" that can benefit our skin and are better not showered away. According to Dr. Richard Gallo, chief of dermatology at University of California, San Diego, "good bacteria [educate] your own skin cells to make your own antibiotics" and help keep bad bacteria at bay. Gallo also thinks those who suffer from dry skin and eczema may want to cut back on showers. But Columbia University's Elaine Larson, who has a Ph.D. in epidemiology, remains cautious: "If it's cold and flu season, you want to get rid of the stuff that isn't a part of your own normal germs."